A TAXI driver has spoken of his 18 months of hell after being charged with a sexual assault he didn’t commit.
Anthony Wales, 47, a self-employed driver in Sunderland, was accused of assaulting an 18-year-old after taking her home from a night out in the city in September 2009.
He says the past 18 months have left him with a mental scar he will carry forever.
A jury at Newcastle Crown Court took just over two hours to find Mr Wales not guilty of the offence which was alleged to have taken place in September 2009.
The alleged victim, who cannot be named, said the 47-year-old groped her in the taxi after pulling it up to the kerbside a short distance from her house after the night out.
Mr Wales, who has been a taxi driver for five years, said the teenager’s accusations nearly cost him his livelihood and aged him “10 years”.
He said: “I’ve got a scar on me, a mental scar which I should not have.
“I have to put up with this for 18 months. How someone can do that when they don’t have enough money?
“If I saw someone attacking a woman, I would be the first to go and help them.
“I have a partner and it has had a really bad effect on the relationship with her.
“It has been a total stress on both of us. I have lost weight and I think I’ve aged about 10 years,”
But it is not just the emotional stress of the case that Mr Wales is concerned about, he also said the accusation has cost him financially.
He said: “I lost my schools contract, which was a bit of a blow. But I’ve been able to do my normal work, because they (the Council) weren’t going to suspend me unless I was found guilty, which is quite right.
“The taxi licensing officers at the Council have been very supportive, which was a big help.
“They could have suspended my licence, which would have meant I would not have been able to work. And I’ve had CCTV installed in the cab for quite a few weeks now, which I paid for myself, there was no sponsorship or anything like that.”
He said this is not the only time a case like this has reared its head in taxi circles. He said: “It is not the first time it has happened - that is why we are getting cameras in.
“I’m not the first taxi driver and I will certainly not be the last.
“Since the incident happened, I am not frightened, but wary.
“I have the cameras in (the cab) and it does help, but it is still in the back of your mind.”
The woman told jurors during the two-day trial at Newcastle Crown Court that Wales had been asking her personal questions during the 20-minute journey before asking her if she wanted to go somewhere private with him - to which she said no.
She told the court she started feeling a bit scared as it was the first time she had been in a taxi alone.
But she accepted she hadn’t fled from the stationary taxi after the alleged incident.
Mr Wales said, though, this was far from the truth.
He said: “On the night I gave her my business card, because she said I am always down the town with my friends and it was a good fare. When I pulled up at the entrance to her estate, she put her hand in her purse and said she did not have enough money.
“I parked outside her house and she said she was going to get the money off her parents. After a couple of minutes, another girl came out and said ‘My parents are out, they won’t be back for half-an-hour’.
“I said I would sort it out tomorrow, as I had work to do and I knew where she lived. After an hour or so, I got a telephone call off her step-father threatening me.
“I said I had left her my card and I thought, for £13, I would let it go.
“To be quite honest, I was not going to call the police, because I would be off the road for so long and it was a Saturday night.
“i’m just relieved it’s over now.”
Mr Wales was cleared of one charge of sexual assault.